Many great golf courses feature water in some shape or form – the Barry and Swilken Burns at Carnoustie and St Andrews, for example – but no course is more influenced by a river than Ilkley Golf Club. River, Bridge, Island and Kingfisher are some of the names of the opening holes. The scene is set from the off – the River Wharfe is dominant for the first seven holes.
Founded in 1890, Ilkley is the third oldest golf club in Yorkshire. In those days Ilkley was a nine-hole course, located on Rombald's Moor. Harry Vardon won his first prize as a professional on this course and his brother Tom was an early professional at the club. As golf grew in popularity, the club needed 18 holes and in 1898 work started on a new course alongside the River Wharfe. Today's course is mainly a tribute to the combined architectural skills of Alister MacKenzie and Harry Colt. Ilkley comes with a very high pedigree.
“On Ilkley Moor baht 'at” is Yorkshire's unofficial anthem, which is sung to an old Methodist tune. The song tells the story of a lover courting Mary Jane on Ilkley Moor. Mary Jane wasn't wearing her hat, and as all good Yorkshire folk know, you'll catch your death of cold on Ilkley Moor without one. The reason we mention this song is that Ilkley is one of the most beautiful places in the country and if it was pretty enough setting for courting Mary Jane, it's also a perfect setting for golf.
Measuring 6,276 yards from the medal tees, Ilkley is no championship challenge, but with a lowly par of 69, it's tougher than it first appears. Colin Montgomerie learnt his trade here and holds the current course record of 64. "Although I have played golf on the finest courses in the world, Ilkley Golf Club will always have a special place in my heart," he said.
The course is blessed with many fine holes and the most memorable are the openers adjacent to the river. The 4th, called "Long", is the first of the two par fives and requires a drive over the river's tributary. From the 8th onwards, trees become the principal hazards, but the sheer scenic beauty remains until the very last putt drops.
Ilkley is a delight and a must-play course. Mark James (alongside Colin Montgomerie) is also an honorary life member here and we'll let him close: "Nestling in the shelter of the Wharfe Valley, Ilkley is one of the most enjoyable courses in the North of England." How could any serious golfer overlook Ilkley?
Ilkley Golf Club is a beautiful parkland course with moderate slopes. I played in the summer of 2017. The distance is a little less than 6,300 yards which is short for today’s standards. The course is par 69 including five par 3s and one par 5. Still it is challenging thanks to relatively tight tree-lined fairways and many strategically placed bunkers. In addition, the river is well utilized on Hole 1-7, 17 & 18. The surrounding views of Yorkshire’s hilly terrain are nice, too.
The 3rd 204-yard par 3 is nestled in a nice location as the river flanks the green. It is a pity that the river is hardly seen due to the thick trees on both sides. I felt that thoughtful removal of the trees is needed to make the river visible off the tee. The 4th 504-yard par 5 is a slight dogleg to the right with the river along the entire left side. Accuracy is needed on both the tee and second shots as the river comes into play on the left and trees on the right. The green is guarded by two bunkers, and slopes slightly from left to right. The club plans to move the green more toward the left river within a couple of years, which I completely agree with. Again, I hope that the trees between the river and green should be removed, and that the green should be moved toward the river as close as possible. Then the hole will become a true risk/reward hole. I would like to come back to play this hole after the nice renovation a few years later. Nevertheless, it is a great hole.
The 18th 418-yard par 4 is a slight dogleg to the left. The tee shot is over a river with two fairway bunkers on the left and trees on the right. The green is vertically narrow with two bunkers on the left and a bunker on the right.
When you are in Yorkshire, I think that Ilkley is a must-play course together with Alwoodley GC and Ganton GC.